Mazyr (Polish: Mozyrz) is a major town in the Belarusian Polesia. Its picturesque location on morainic hills along the Prypyat River distinguishes this place from the typical marshy flatland of Polesia.
Mazyr’s documented history dates back to the mid-12th century when one of the Ruthenian castles belonging to the Kingdom of Kiev was located there. From the time of the Union of Lublin in 1569 the town was within the borders of the Commonwealth. In 1577, Mazyr was granted a town charter by King Stefan Batory. Mazyr’s Polish history ended together with the Second Partition of Poland in 1793. The town’s significant growth took place in the 19th century: towards the end of that century Mazyr had a population of 10,000, 70 percent of which were Jews. The town played a special role in the Polish-Bolshevik War. On 5 March 1920, it was conquered by the troops of the 9th Infantry Division under the command of Colonel Władysław Sikorski as part of the Mazyr Operation. The victory of Polish troops (which Piłsudski considered to be one of the most important victories during the entire war) resulted in Sikorski’s promotion to the rank of general. On 27 April 1920, the vicinity of Mazyr was also the scene of a “sea battle” on the Prypyat River between the Pinsk Flotilla (owned by the Poles) and the Dnieper Flotilla (which was part of the Red Army). From the end of war operations to the signing of the Peace of Riga Mazyr was the venue of still another episode of special significance for the history of Belarus. On 12 November 1920, General Bułak-Bałachowicz, upon the capture of the town by his volunteer army, proclaimed independence of the Belarusian People’s Republic in the town. However, after a few days the Bałachowicz troops were forced to retreat to Poland. After the peace in Riga Mazyr was within the borders of the USSR. From 1938 it was the capital of the Polesia Oblast and since 1954 its has been an over one hundred thousand-strong centre of a region in the Homel Oblast. The remains of the Polish rule in the city include the 17th and 18th century churches (or what has been left of them), among them the post-Observantine Church, and two churches once belonging to the Cistercian monks. There is a small group of people in the city admitting their Polish roots. Traditionally, it is gathered around the Roman-Catholic Church and the District Branch of the Union of Poles in Belarus.